Written by Kerry Elizabeth Blickenderfer-Black
11 November, 2013
Motherhood was a challenge that Cynthia endeavored to meet and beat, though on this particular Thursday, it was a singular task, indeed.
Angelica was her oldest but more demanding child, a girl of five who looked as beautiful as her name deserved, with golden ringlets and icy blue eyes fringed with coppery lashes. She was on the Autism Spectrum, and, although there was nothing obvious to indicate a disability, her involvement was debilitating.
Last night, she would not sleep, screaming her mother’s name all through the night in a sing-song rhyme. Cynthia tried to sooth her girl, even curling up in bed with her in the hopes of providing comfort, but Angelica did not want to be touched. She lashed out, hitting her mother and screaming. Because they lived in an old-fashioned condominium with thin walls, it was imperative that quiet be maintained at least through the night, but Angelica could not comply. The neighbors complained, and although Cynthia tried to explain, they were unsympathetic and threatening.
Her youngest girl, Anya, was not quite a year old and equally as beautiful as her sister, with a wispy fuzz of gold curls erupting like a halo and eyes a shade of blue darker. She did not show any signs of autism, to the relief of her parents. Both sisters were difficult about eating breakfast and required baths before running the necessary errands. Anya enjoyed her bath, splashing and making a mess that would make a clutch of ducklings proud. It was only with gingerly handling that Angelica could be cleansed. She did not like the feel of the water on her skin and fought like a wildcat when having her hair shampooed.
Just strapping the struggling pair into their car seats was exhausting, but Cynthia persevered and set off to the Monroeville Mall to tend to the day’s errands. Many were the times that she wished that her car was a military issued Humvee, wide enough to separate the girls and keep them from touching each other. That notwithstanding, she wished that she could divide the vehicle lengthwise with a mesh that could protect the personal space of each girl.
Truth be told, Angelica was always the encroacher, the aggressor, the interloper. She draped herself across the arm of her seat, wiggling free of the restraints, and antagonized her little sister, taking toys or poking her. Just as they pulled in to the parking lot, Angelica sat up with a self-satisfied grin when Anya let out a wail. Cynthia unstrapped Anya who was pointing at her sister and rubbing the right side of her head. Soothing and bouncing the infant in her left arm while setting up the stroller with her right, Anya calmed and nestled in to her mother, tears still wet on her round cheeks when she was strapped in to her pastel-cushioned stroller.
Cynthia pushed Anya in the stroller to the back passenger side door where Angelica glowered at her through the window. At times, Cynthia imagined that her older girl was unaware of the impact that her actions had on those around her, but the look of defiance Angelica wore as she coldly regarded her mother through the passenger side window made her reconsider in this instance.
She opened the door and looked right at her child. “Angelica, you hurt Anya.” Angelica crossed her arms and looked away as though not hearing her mother. “Angelica, look at me. You hurt your sister. You made her cry.” The headliner of their van apparently became tremendously interesting to the girl, deaf to her mother. “Angelica, please,” Cynthia continued, but since there was no reasoning, she stepped back to allow Angelica to exit.
The girl lunged at her sister, pulling on the unsuspecting baby’s hair. “No!” Cynthia yelled, but it was too late. Golden curls were trapped in Angelica’s clenched fist, and Anya’s shock and hurt formed salty tears as she yelled to the Heavens her discontent.
Cynthia presented Anya with a Sippy cup of milk, which quieted the child. She knelt in front of Angelica, but with the same results as earlier in the van. No eye contact, no remorse, no understanding. “Look at me, Angelica!” her mother said sternly, shaking with fatigue and frustration. When the girl would not, Cynthia reached up and, with forefinger and thumb, tugged at a small clump of her daughter’s hair. It was not hard, but it did draw Angelica’s attention and elicit a reaction, though not one for which Cynthia hoped.
She burst into heaving sobs and would not listen as her mother said, “It hurts to pull hair. That did not hurt as much as when you ripped hair out of your sister’s head. Please, listen to me.” She would not. Internal battles pressed and seized Cynthia’s heart and mind. How to reach her autistic girl and how to be a good mother, vied with frustration. Fighting back her own tears, Cynthia grabbed her daughter’s hand in her own and pushed the stroller toward the mall entrance.
Before reaching the glass automatic doors, however, a woman came screaming off of a PAT bus. “How dare you! I saw you pull that poor child’s hair! I should call Children and Youth Services RIGHT NOW!” Cynthia was stunned, unable to process the tirade. “I beg your pardon?” Cynthia said, confused. The woman from the bus then yelled, “You what? You should be begging that child’s pardon!” The woman, having shaken the already distraught mother, then returned to her seat on the bus.
Cynthia stood outside of the mall watching as the bus pulled away, unable to keep the tears in check any longer. Angelica and Anya occupied themselves, one at the end of her protective arm, the other in her stroller, recovered from their distresses. Their mother pulled some resolve from within herself. Motherhood was a challenge that Cynthia endeavored to meet and beat, though on this particular Thursday, it was a singular task, indeed.